UPSTART Prepares Brothers for Kindergarten, Helps One Overcome Speech Impediment




UPSTART helped Vivien Van Leeuwen’s younger of two sons overcome a speech impediment in addition to preparing her older son for kindergarten. Both children are now ahead of their age groups developmentally and socially.


Vivien Van Leeuwen is a mother of three living in the boundaries of the Jordan School District in Utah. One child has finished the UPSTART program, while another is currently enrolled. Both have seen benefits from its use. Van Leeuwen learned about UPSTART from her friend who saw a newscast about it.

Challenge and Needs

Each child has a unique style of learning. With two young boys and an infant daughter, making sure they all receive adequate education and attention can be a trial. Preschool can help, but it doesn’t focus as much on teaching reading and many children who attended preschool still aren’t ready for kindergarten when they are old enough to go.

The younger of Van Leeuwen’s two sons struggled to speak. When he was 18 months old, he could only grunt and groan. By the age of two he had incorporated vowels into his speech but still couldn’t use consonants or communicate effectively. He attended speech therapy and was progressing, but not as well as his parents hoped.

Meanwhile, Van Leeuwen older son was a whiz at math and science, but didn’t enjoy reading, making it difficult to get him to participate.


Van Leeuwen learned about UPSTART from a friend and registered her older son, who was accepted into the program. Later, her younger son was also admitted into the program.

Waterford Institute’s UPSTART program uses Waterford Early Learning adaptive software, which emphasizes reading, but also includes math and science. When a child uses UPSTART, they begin with an age-appropriate assessment that determines where they are on their learning path. The Early Learning software then serves up lessons at home in an individualized manner. Pulling from over 8,000 activities, songs and books, the software provides a learning environment that is unique to the learner’s needs. The sequence in which they play these games is essential to their learning, comprehension, and skill mastery.

Reading segments begin with games and songs tailored to skills such as letter recognition, phonics, spelling and so forth. It also includes storybooks that incorporate vocabulary lessons and teach listening comprehension as well as reading practice. Children are first read to by the software and then they take a turn reading aloud to improve their reading confidence.

After reading, the children move onto math and science. The math teaches basic number skills including recognition and counting, and even moves onto adding and subtracting when the children are ready. The science section includes lessons on the development of baby chicks inside an egg, volcanoes, and plant life among many other topics.


After successfully completing his 15 minutes a day every week, Van Leeuwen’s older son was able to keep up with the program and was reading before he entered kindergarten. Today, Van Leeuwen’s older son’s reading level is above average, and above most kids in his class. Even though reading isn’t his first choice of activity, he reads chapter books when many other of his classmates are still only able to read picture books and short books.

Van Leeuwen’s older son loved the math and science sections of UPSTART. He wouldn’t sign off until his parents made him. He was even able to add and subtract before he entered kindergarten.

The younger son, though not yet signed up, began to mimic the songs and sounds he overheard while his older brother used UPSTART. Once he was old enough to use UPSTART, he also had positive results. However, for him, the results were more dramatic.

“The children’s program at church is a perfect example of my son’s progress,” said Van Leeuwen. “Even a year ago you still didn’t really understand what he was saying. But this year he got up, he read his part, and he read every word so clearly that everyone in that church could understand exactly what he was saying. I had people telling me that even a couple months ago they had no idea if he was even saying ‘hi’ to them and now they could understand him reading a long sentence.”

When he was three he started benefiting from UPSTART by overhearing the lessons his brother did. He soon developed the ability to use consonants and a better ability to communicate. By the age of four, when he started using his own UPSTART account, he had tested out of regular speech therapy, remaining only in the articulation class. And by the age of five he tested out of speech therapy completely.

His speech therapist attributes UPSTART to helping him improve his speech, in addition to the speech therapy sessions.

Now, he can communicate effectively and can be understood completely. Like his older brother, he is above average in reading and surpasses most of his class in comprehension.

“There’s a definite difference between UPSTART kids and the kids who didn’t use UPSTART,” said Van Leeuwen. “There are a lot of kids going into school who are not even close to being ready for kindergarten. There are even some things in first grade that a lot of kids just aren’t ready to do.”

With both children who have used UPSTART benefitting so much from it, Van Leeuwen hopes the state funded program will expand to include more children, including her youngest when she is four, because it works so well.

The overall effect of using UPSTART for the Van Leeuwen family has been a positive one. It has illustrated that students of differing learning styles and capabilities will still benefit from the program, even to a degree exceeding the average student.


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